Joho the Blog » social networks

August 26, 2012

Singing the news

I’m reading Robert Darnton’s Poetry and the Police, a fascinating history that uses the Affair of the Fourteen — which resulted in the downfall of an important government minister — as a way to explore the social networking of news in pre-Republic France.

In 1749, the police cracked down on citizens reciting particular popular poems that were considered seditious. Prof. Darnton has done prodigious research exploring how the poems moved through the culture, being altered along the way. It’s the basic folk movement that we see on the Web now, albeit the Web speeds things up a wee bit.

Here’s a paragraph about how these poems/songs spread news:

By the time “Qu’une bâtarde de catin” reached the Fourteen, it included a little bit of everything that was in the news. It had become a sung newspaper, full of commentary on current events, and catchy enough to appeal to a broad public. Moreover, the listeners and singers could adjust it to their own taste. The topical song was a fluid medium, which could absorb the preferences of different groups and could expand to include everything that interested the public as a whole.” (p. 78)

This is a reminder of two things: the most basic elements of human sociality change less than we think, and deep experts who write beautifully are a treasure.

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June 19, 2012

[sogeti] Andrew Keen

I’m at an event put on by Sogeti, in Bussum, about 30 km outside of Amsterdam. Sogeti is a technology consulting company of about 20,000 people. Last night on the way to a dinner event, Michiel Boreel the CTO, explained that the company markets itself in part by holding events designed to provoke thought and controversy. At today’s event, they have a guy from IBM talking about Big Data, Andrew Keen, Luciano Floridi, me, and others. At tomorrow’s event, they are having a debate about whether Big Data is good or bad for you. (Disclosure: They’re paying me for speaking.)

Andrew Keen is giving the final speech of the morning. He’s going to talk about the themes of his book, Digital Vertigo, especially as they apply to Big Data.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

“Real time is yesterday’s news,” he says. We’re into Web 3.0, he says. What does that mean? Paraphrasing Robert Scoble: the bartender knows what you want before you order. “The future arrives before we know it.” (He refers to his recent op-ed at CNN.com.)

He says he calls his book Digital Vertigo because the future is being scripted by Alfred Hitchcock. The premise is that Hitchcock’s Vertigo gives us a preview of what life is like in the age of Big Data. “It’s a movie about watching and being watched.” “Jimmy Stewart is us in the age of Big Data.” “Surveillance and voyeurism…a little preview from Hitchcock of the age of exhibitionism” In the Age of Big Data weve fallen in love with the idea that more we make public, the happier we will become.” People like, um, me (i.e., DW) and the Berkman Center are responsible for fooling us into thinking that the more together we are, the happier we are.

He plays a bit of The Social Network, when Sean Parker says, “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the Internet.” Up through Web 2.0 the distinction between the real and virtual was clear. Now some authors (James Gleick) say that we are made of data. Many companies are in the business of collecting our data and enabling us to distribute ourselves and to define ourselves as data. People (he cites Loic Le Meur) are recording everything about themsevlves — his weight, his exercise runs, etc. “All these apps are designed to record, callibrate, intepret ourselves.” The location apps could have been invented by Orwell. The app Highlight keeps tabs on where we are. It aggregates our data.

He plays a bit of The Truman Show. “We’re all starring in the age of big data as ourselves…There’s no difference between private and public life.” “We have the collapsing of the public and private.” “Privacy is being destroyed. Many people in Silicon Valley say this is a good thing.”

“What’s behind this? Part of it is what I would call Digital Narcissism.” Andrew went to the Parthenon and found that no one was looking at the ruins because they were too busy photographing each other. The Age of Big data is an ideal complement to the Age of Narcissism, just as Jimmy Stewart fell in love with a fake blonde. “All love stories end badly. I’m British, not American.”

“Visibility is a trap,” said Foucault, says Andrew. “I’m not saying we should turn off all our devices, ” but visibility is a trap in three ways: 1. We, the innocent, are in fact the victim. The apps are collecting our data and selling it to advertisers, although they deny that. Eric Schmidt has said that he wants Google in 5 years to know what we want better than we do. 2. Even if we’re living in a post-1984 world, there still are governments whose eyes get big when they see they can know everything about us, telling us they’re fighting “absurd things such as terrorism.” Did social media bring down Mubarek? Yes, but there’s a darker side: 3. We’re watching ourselves. We’ve become little brothers.

History is repeating itself. He cites Bentham’s panopticon. Bentham thought if we all watched one another, it would aid progressive causes.

We need to do what Jimmy Stuart did: He sees the truth. We need to draw a line in the sand. “I’m not against some elements of the transparent network.” We’ve fallen in love with the idea that we become more human the more we distribute ourselves. “The problem with social media is that it’s not making us human. It’s doing away with the complexity of who we are.” Human essence is premised on secrecy, mystery. Individualism requires us to be alone. It does not require us to be in this perpetual social environment. Wozniak invented the personal computer by shutting himself in a room. If you want to bring the most out of your people, you need to put walls up in your office. You need to give people the space to develop their own ideas. You need to take them off the network.

We’ll finally be able to predict our own deaths. We need an alternative ending. We need to rethink the age of big data. We need government action. “I’m not a 20th century Stalinist. I’m not say the govt has to shut these companies down. But we need regulation.” We need apps that are premised on privacy and there are some. We need to rely on tech, e.g., some that’s being developed that allows data to degenerate. We need most of all to teach the Net how to forget. The Net is immature. It needs to learn how to forget. If data could fade away like writing, then the Net would be habitable. But now it is inhabitable. It is not a place fit for humans.

Andrew shows the end of the Truman Show where Truman realizes he’s on a TV set and he escapes. We need to discover that here’s a world beyond the network. Truman disappears into the darkness. That’s what we need to do in the age of big data. We need individually to discover that black space, where we can retire, where we can really work on ourselves as unique individuals. We’re born in that darkness and we die in it. The Net is a deception. We can civilize and humanize it. But we need collectively to work on it. [Collectively? Like on the Net?]

Q&A

Q: Do we have a right to be forgotten? Is it a right?

A: Brandeis wrote we have this as a core right because privacy allows us to build our individuality. I’m not a legal scholar, so I don’t know.But I do think the govt can’t legislate it. We have to be careful that this doesn’t turn into censorship.

Q: What’s worse than no regulation is bad regulation.

A: Clearly someone from Silicon Valley. The Net should be legislated like any other medium. I’m ambivalent about enforcing the right to forget. I’ve failed many times, but the business of America is reinvention. With a medium that doesn’t forget, then you can’t reinvent himself. Even Mark Zuckerberg reinvented himself. Facebook’s Timeline writes a narrative of our lives. I wrote an aggressively negative article about this and got 20,000 FB Likes.

Q: Who in the room sees mainly the positive side of Big Data? The negative side? [Very few hands go up for either side.]

A: The purpose of my work is not to trash the Internet; it’s to have us think more carefully.

Q: What is the positive side of big data?

A: The positive is that it enables people who have mastered themselves to improve that mastery. If you use medical apps to chart your weight and fitness, these platforms to reinvent yourself as a brand , enable us if we’re mature and responsible to improve the quality of our lives. The problem is that most people aren’t using social media that way. The biggest problem with big data is that it turns us into ones and zeroes. Bentham thought we can quantify everything about ourselves. The real way to happiness is not through data. [True. The positive side: Bentham quantified as a way to equalize interests across classes.]

 


During the break, Andrew and I had a lively conversation. In brief, we agree that we don’t trust social networks like (and especially) Facebook to handle our data in ways that reflect our interests. And where we fundamentally disagree is in our assessment of how humans flourish. Andrew emphasizes the individual. I can only see individuals as social creatures. That of course over-simplifies the discussion and the idea, but, well, I’m over-simplifying.

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May 21, 2012

Will tablets always make us non-social consumers?

I know that tablets these days are “lean back” devices on which we “consume” “content.” (“When Life Becomes All Scare Quotes: ‘Film’ at 11″) But I keep hoping that that’s because they’re at the beginning of their tech curve.

After all, we’ve shown pretty convincingly over the past fifteen years that if you lower the barriers sufficiently, we will flood the ecosystem with what we want to say, draw, animate, video, carve, etc. Tablets raise those barriers significantly: I do much less typing and even less linking when I’m using my tablet (a Motorola Xoom, by the way — love it). But that’s because typing on a virtual keyboard is a pain in the butt.

I thus think (= hope) that it’s a mistake to extrapolate from today’s crappy input systems on tablets to a future of tablet-based couch potatoes still watching Hollywood crap. We’re one innovation away from lowering the creativity hurdle on tablets. Maybe it’ll be a truly responsive keyboard. Or something that translates sub-vocalizations into text (because I’m too embarrassed to dictate into my table while in public places). Or, well, something.

The fact that we’re not sharing nearly as much when we use a table is evidence of a design flaw in tablets.

I hope.

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February 9, 2012

How kind are social networks?

Fascinating report by Pew Internet on the emotional climate adults find on social networking sites. From a summary of the report circulated by Pew:

  • 85% of SNS-using adults say that their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind, compared with 5% who say people they observe on the sites are mostly unkind and another 5% who say their answer depends on the situation.

  • At the same time, 49% of SNS-using adults said they have seen mean or cruel behavior displayed by others at least occasionally. And 26% said they had experienced at least one of the bad outcomes that were queried in the survey.

It’s easy to see how this compares with our expectations about social networks. For me, I was pleasantly surprised at the 85% number, and would have guessed the 49% would have been higher. After all, I’ve seen occasional mean acts even on mailing lists among people who have come to know one another pretty well over the years. And you can’t have a blog for long without attracting some mean-spirited comments, On the other hand, it’s hard to know what to make of this compared to non-digital social networks. Would 49% of adults say that they have seen mean or cruel behavior at work? Among their extended set of real-world friends? At parties they’ve gone to? It’s hard to know exactly what an online network compares to structurally.

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January 7, 2012

Does Google’s use of ‘social signals’ break the Web?

There’s a fascinating post at ReadwriteWeb by Scott M. Fulton III about the effect “social signals” such as posts by people within your Google+ Circles, has on search results. It is not an easy article to skim :) Here’s the conclusion:

It is obvious from our test so far, which spanned a 48-hour period, that there may be an unintended phenomenon of the infusion of social signals into all Google searches: the reduction in visibility in search results of the original article that generated all the discussion in the first place. This may have a counter-balancing effect on the popularity of any article…

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November 4, 2011

Draft: What’s new about social media?

I’m on a panel about “What’s Next in Social Media?” at the National Archives tonight , moderated by Alex Howard, the Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media, and with fellow panelists Sarah Bernard, Deputy Director, White House Office of Digital Strategy; Pamela S. Wright, Chief Digital Access Strategist at the National Archives. It’s at 7pm, with a “social media fair” beginning at 5:30pm.

I don’t know if we’re going to be asked to give brief opening statements. I suspect not. But, if so I’m thinking of talking about the context, because I don’t know what social media will be:

1. The Internet began as an open “address space” that enabled networks to be created within it. So, we got the Web, which networked pages. We got social networks, which networked people. We are well on our way to networking data, through the Semantic Web and Linked Open Data. We are getting an Internet of Things. The DPLA will, I hope, help create a network of cultural objects.

2. The Internet and the Web have always been social, but the rise of networks particularly tuned to social needs is of vast importance because the social determines all the rest. Indeed, the Internet is a medium only because we are in fact that through which messages pass. We pass them along because they matter to us, and we stake a bit of selves on them. We are the medium.

3. Of all of the major and transformative networks that have emerged, only the social networks are closed and owned. I don’t know how or if we will get open social networks, but it is a danger that as of now we do not have them.

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May 26, 2010

Pew study of reputation management

From an email about a new Pew Research report:

WASHINGTON – More than half (57%) of adult internet users say they have used a search engine to look up their name and see what information was available about them online, up from 47% who did so in 2006. Young adults, far from being indifferent about their digital footprints, are the most active online reputation managers in several dimensions. For example, more than two-thirds (71%) of social networking users ages 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online.

These findings form the centerpiece of a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that looks at reputation and online identity management in the age of social media. The report is based on a telephone survey conducted in August and September of 2009 of 2,253 adults, ages 18 and older, including 560 cell phone interviews. [snip]

  • Monitoring the digital footprints of others has become more common: 38% of internet users have searched online for information about their friends, up from 26% in 2006.

  • People are more likely to be found online: 40% of internet users say they have been contacted by someone from their past who found them online, up from 20% who reported the same in 2006.

  • Social networking users are especially attuned to the intricacies of online reputation management: The size of the adult social networking population has more than doubled since 2006, and 65% of these profile owners have changed the privacy settings for their profile to restrict what they share with others online.

When compared with older users, young adults are more likely to restrict what they share and whom they share it with. Those ages 18-29 are more likely than older adults to say:

  • They take steps to limit the amount of personal information available about them online – 44% of young adult internet users say this, compared with 33% of internet users ages 30-49, 25% of those ages 50-64 and 20% of those ages 65 and older.

  • They change privacy settings – 71% of social networking users ages 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. By comparison, just 55% of SNS users ages 50-64 have changed their privacy settings.

  • They delete unwanted comments – 47% social networking users ages 18-29 have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29% of those ages 30-49 and 26% of those ages 50-64.

  • They remove their name from photos – 41% of social networking users ages 18-29 say they have removed their name from photos that were tagged to identify them, compared with just 24% of SNS users ages 30-49 and only 18% of those ages 50-64.

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May 25, 2010

Who were you friending in 1973

It’s the 50th anniversary of what became, arguably, the first digital social networking tool, PLATO. In its honor, the PlatoHistory site has posted a list of what some of the current Big Names in computers were doing when PLATO Notes, its message board, went live. There’s also a free conference, with Donald Bitzer and Ray Ozzie keynoting; Bitzer created PLATO and Ozzie founded Lotus Notes which was originally modeled on Plato notes.

(For the record: in 1973, I was spending a year between college and grad school, being a handyman, writing badly, and pining. And you?)

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March 2, 2010

[berkman] Karrie Karahalios: Strong and weak ties in social media

Karrie Karahalios is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk entitled “Text and Tie Strength.” Karrie is a Berkman Fellow from the Univ. of Illinois.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

[THE NEXT DAY: Ethan Zuckerman has posted his superior livebloggage. Please proceed there in an orderly fashion.

"What attracts people most is other people," said William H. Whyte. People want to sit and talk. But what is the equivalent of a seat in a virtual space. Her group studies visualizations of group interaction. She shows examples, including how voting changes interactions, and how conversations cluster around topics.

Karrie grew up in a small town in Greece. Every Sunday her father would call from America. The call would come to the one phone, which was in a tavern. The people around expected the call and would participate. People use communication media differently in rural and urban areas, she says. E.g., rural communities used to like party lines; it was like a sub-net. Urban folks didn't and the telephone companies moved to individual lines.

Her group sampled communication usage in rural and urban communities. They had five hypotheses. Rural people would have networks with:

fewer friends and comments

more women

more private profiles

friends are closer geographically

preference for strong ties over weak ties

The results showed that all but the last were true. In part this is because it's hard to quantify strong and weak ties.

She suggests: Maybe there are two MySpaces: Rural and urban.

To understand weak vs. strong ties, her group explored Facebook. It's quite binary: someone is either a friend or a stranger. The dog breeder who you met once has the same presence in your FB network as your husband.

Tie strength was invented by Mark Granovetter in the 1970s, in the book Getting a Job. Karrie says: "Strong ties are the people you really trust." They help people through difficult times. And if a strong tie is depressed, you might get depressed also. "Weak ties are merely acquaintances." Granovetter pointed out the utility of weak ties in "The Strength of Weak Ties."

Her group looked at FB and wondered how to map FB parameters to tie strength. They set up a set of questions with continua, e.g., "How strong is your relationship with this person." They assessed 2,184 friendships, from 35 university students and staff, along 70 parameters. E.g., friend-initiated wall posts, wall words exchanged, friend's status updates, inbox intimacy words, together in photos, age differences, political differences, mutual friends, groups in common, links exchange by wall, applications in common, positive and negative emotional words, and days since first communication.

Her model had seven elements of tie strength: structure, emotional support, services, social distance, duration, intensity, intimacy. Her findings showed the relative importance of each of these (which I've listed in order, from least to most). The most predictive FB element was days since first communication. This may be because the first people you first connect with are the ones you are most tied to, although you may then not use FB for much communication with that person.

Karrie finds it quite interesting when her model doesn't work. E.g., "This friend is an old ex" who was friended when they first began. She says that strong ties can be love or hate, although we tend to assume strong ties are positive; her model doesn't include negative strong ties. Also, there are times when someone else's account is used as a proxy for two others to communicate, e.g., neighbors who are feuding and only communicate through a three year old child's FB account; Karrie's model does not account for that.

How might this applied? Suppose you could organize your photos so your strong ties saw one set and your weak ties saw another? Trying to do this by hand is a nightmare.

They did this work in 2008. Then they wondered whether it applied to Twitter. The created wemeddle.com where you can see the people you follow on Twitter. It clusters them by the strength time. Photo colorization and size indicate strength. Karrie says she's been surprised to find that she's more interested in what her weak ties tweet.

Her group is studying the quantifiable data (e.g., server logs) but will also interview users.

Q: Your model users linear regression on Facebook?
A: Yes.

Q: How about a geo-map visualization?
Ethanz: Someone recently did this sort of thing for Facebook. There are areas with cross-national friendships and some without many.

Karrie wonders if there is a single model for strong and weak ties that applies to all social media.

Judith Donath adds that following links is a strong signal of a strong tie, which is information that the WeMeddle client could start tracking.

Karrie: In FB, we took advantage of reciprocity as an indicator of tie strength, but reciprocity for Twitter doesn't work.

Ethanz: Strong vs. weak is so murky. WeMeddle is a very nice provocation. Also: LiveJournal gives you valence, as opposed to FB that only lets you friend or not friend. At FB, every relationship is symmetrical. Twitter is more like celebrity: once you have over a few thousand people, you're broadcasting. It'd be interesting to look at tech that enables a strong-weak tie continuum.

Karrie: There's lots of lit on info flow, but not on how the strength of ties influences how you send info out across the network.

Judith: We're all fooled by the asymmetry of Twitter, which makes for a bizarre set of ties. WeMeddle and your model might help us make sense of it.

Donnie Dong: Could WeMeddle combine FB and Twitter?
A: Yes, it's possible. People would have to put in both logins.
Donnie: Twitter and FB are blocked in China. It'd be interesting to look at people who communities inside or outside the Wall.

Q: Have you looked at email? And have you looked at the connections among people twittering about disasters?
A: We haven't looked at either of those things. Disaster relief would be fascinating to look at.
Ethan: There's a report that during the Iranian uprising, there were only 60 Iranians tweeting, and the rest were Americans retweeting.

Q: Can you track how people gain trust, to move from outer circle to inner circle?
A: The trust problem is really hard. Trust with text — the literature hasn't been very complete. With 140 chars you don't get a lot of queues. On the other hand, looking at reputation systems might get you somewhere. I wish I had a better answer for you...

Q: [me] Doesn’t this suggest that strong and weak ties is too much of a polarity for the Web?
A: It suggests that trust doesn’t map to strong and weak. There may be several types of strong and weak ties.

Judith: Granovetter was really interested in homogeneous and heterogeneous ties.

Ethanz: Maybe look at John Kelly’s work on how blogs link to third parties. Look to see what everyone links to. You’ve got all the data, but if you grab the links people are linking to, you can imagine another way of clustering people.

Karrie: There’s lots of work recently about how information gets dispersed. E.g., to spread info quickly it’s better to have a network of people who believe things easily than having one large influencer. Also, it’d be very interesting to map people by complementarity, not just similarity. Overall, I’m really interested in how these ties evolve over time.

Wendy Seltzer: You could look at contextual work (a la Nissanbaum). E.g., do people name their groups at WeMeddle the same way, and how do people move people in and out of groups.
A: There’s a set of privacy questions. Suppose people publish the list of their inner circle. Why aren’t I on it? I don’t want to destroy any relationships with this work. What attracts people the most is other people.

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February 26, 2010

From circles to networks

Just a terminological note:

Over the past decade, we’ve gone from talking about social circles to social networks. A circle draws a line around us. Networks draw lines among us.

(Yet more evidence — as if we needed it — that networks are the new paradigm. Bye bye, Information Age!)

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